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ThoughBroadway

ThoughBroadway

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1866 essay by HT Tuckerman describing the glories and origins of Victorian Manhattan's ultimate shopping destination--Broadway. An interesting corroboration of the pictures painted by Walt Whitman's poems.
1866 essay by HT Tuckerman describing the glories and origins of Victorian Manhattan's ultimate shopping destination--Broadway. An interesting corroboration of the pictures painted by Walt Whitman's poems.

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Published by: Mitchell Santine Gould on Feb 28, 2011
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02/28/2011

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HT Tuckerman, "Through Broadway."
The AtlanticMonthly 
18: 110 (December, 1866), 717-728.The incessant demolition of which Broadway isthe scene denotes to the most careless eye thatdevotion to the immediate which De Tocquevillemaintains to be a democratic characteristic. Thehuge piles of old bricks which block the way-- withtheir array of placards heralding every grade of popular amusement, from a tragedy of Shakespeareto a negro melody, and from a menagerie to aclairvoyant exhibition, and vaunting every kind of experimental charlatanism, from quack medicine toflash literature are mounds of less mystery, but morehuman meaning, than those which puzzlearchaeologists on the Mississippi and the Ohio; forthey are the debris of mansions only half a centuryago the aristocratic homes of families whosedescendants are long since scattered, and whosesocial prominence and local identity are forgotten,while trade has obliterated every vestige of theirroof-tree and association of their hearth-stone. Suchis the constant process. As private residences giveway to stores and offices, the upper portion of theisland is crowded with their enlarged dimensions andelaborate luxury; churches are in the same mannersacrificed, until St. Paul's and Trinity alone remain of the old sacred landmarks; and the suburban feature--those fields where burgomasters foregathered, themilitia drilled, and Hamilton's youthful eloquence
 
roused the people to arms-- is transferred to theother and distant end of Manhattan, and expandedinto a vast, variegated, and beautiful rural domain,that the Park may coincide in extent and attractionwith the increase of the population and growth of thecity's area. Thus a perpetual tide of emigration, andthe pressure of the business on the resident section,involving change of domicile, substitution of uses,the alternate destruction and erection of buildings,each being larger and more costly in material thanits predecessor, --make the metropolis of the NewWorld appear, to the visitor from the Old, a shiftingbivouac rather than a stable city, where hereditaryhomes are impossible, and nomadic instinctsprevalent, and where local associations, such asendear or identify the streets abroad, seem asincongruous as in the Eastern desert or Westernwoods, whose dwellers "fold their tents like theArabs, and as silently steal away." The absence of the law of primogeniture necessitates the breakingup of estates, and thus facilitates the methodswhereby the elegant homestead becomes, in thesecond or third generation, a dry-goods store, ahoarding or club house, a milliner's show-room or adentist's office. Here and there some venerablegossip will rehearse the triumphs of refinedhospitality, or describe the success of a belle or thebrilliancy of a genial leader in politics or socialpastime, which, years ago, consecrated a mansion orendeared a neighborhood,-- whereof not a visible
 
relic is now discoverable, save in a portrait orreminiscent paper conserved in the archives of theHistorical Society. And in this speedy oblivion of domestic and social landmarks, how easily we find areason for the national irreverence, and the exclusiveinterest in the future, which make the life of America,like the streets of her cities, a scene of transitionunhallowed by memorials.Yet, despite its dead horses and vehicularentanglements, its vile concert saloons, the alternatemeanness and magnificence of its architecture, thefragile character of its theatrical structures, and theirlimited and hazardous means of exit, --despite fallingwalls and the necessity of police guardianship at thecrossings the reckless driving of butcher-boys andthe dexterity of pickpockets, despite the slipperypavement, and the chronic cry for relief, --Broadwayis a spectacle and an experience worth patient study,and wonderfully prolific of life-pictures. With afountain at one end, like a French town, and a chimeof bells at the other, like a German city, theintermediate space is as representative a rendezvousas can be found in the world.The first thing that strikes an experienced eye inNew York's great thoroughfare is the paucity of loiterers: he sees, at a glance, that the
flaneur 
is an

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